There's nobody deadlier than The Punisher in the Marvel Universe, but he's about to get an Iron Man upgrade in the form of the War Machine armor. His story may just be starting in Marvel's Punisher TV series, but the world of the comics is about to hand Frank Castle the suit of weaponized armor, but definitely not the mission of James "Rhodey" Rhodes. Being a superhero has never been the Punisher's style, and with an entire army at his fingertips, the time has come to explore what a man fueled by revenge and violence does when he has the power to attack nations, not just criminals.
The shocking reveal of Frank Castle wearing the vacant War Machine armor is delivered on the cover of The Punisher #218, being released as part of Marvel's upcoming "Legacy" movement (intended to reconnect characters with their most fan-loved themes). But as stunning - and worrying - as it is to see a comic book character famous for murdering people he dislikes putting on a variant of the Iron Man armor, the creative team is soothing fan concerns. It should go without saying, but... this ain't no superhero story.
As those following Marvel's recent event roadmap are well aware, the original War Machine was killed by Thanos in a skirmish that helped launch the Civil War II conflict. As Punisher creators Matthew Rosenberg and Guiu Vilanova explain to Newsarama, that empty suit of armor eventually pops onto Nick Fury's radar. With enemies in need of being taken out, and none better at killing without asking too many questions, Fury entrusts the weapon to Frank Castle.
It's not a new calling for Frank, a decision to abandon or be promoted from his role as The Punisher. But what happens when the weapon he wields is more than just bullets or explosives? Rosenberg explains how that question forms the basis of Punisher's newest chapter:
In a way, this is Frank in his idealized form. It's one of those crazy ideas that everyone recoils from at first and then they let it sink in and it makes people ask "Why didn't this happen sooner?" It just makes logical sense that Frank would want the armor... Putting Frank in Rhodey's armor felt so wrong to me at first. It felt almost blasphemous. It wasn't until I realized this wasn't a superhero story anymore that I got it. This isn't a celebration of the Punisher taking on the mantle of War Machine and becoming a hero. This is a look into how easily War Machine can become overshadowed by the Punisher when it falls into the wrong hands.
In the end, the Punisher is a simple answer to some very complex questions. Trying to make him be a force for good in this world is less about trying to figure out new ways to fit a square peg into a round hole and more about how much can you hammer that peg before everything shatters. Frank will always be a man with guns killing people he thinks are bad. It's the world that changes around him. And through that we hope people can step away from this book being as terrified and awestruck of the unchanging constant that is The Punisher as we are. I hope people ask what it means that someone like the Punisher exists.
The coverage of the Issue #218 cover (by artist Clayton Crain) reveal has appropriately framed the story as 'Punisher becoming the new War Machine,' but Rosenberg is clear that's not the spirit of the story at all. Frank Castle's respect for James Rhodes as a dutiful soldier (as he once was) goes far beyond his suit of weaponized armor: he sees the first casualty of Civil War II's many deaths as the loss of Rhodes, not the arsenal he used to be a superhero. It's an important distinction for those fans of Rhodey concerned that Marvel will be tarnishing his legacy while presumably "honoring" Frank's. Rosenberg compares it to the Punisher using any hero's weaponry: "if he grabbed Hawkeye's bow and used it to shoot a mobster he wouldn't be Hawkeye, he'd just be practical."
From the sound of it, fans shouldn't expect to see any tectonic shifts or moral dilemmas from Frank's side of things. Instead, it's Fury letting him loose with government-toppling ordnance and the world around him that will likely provide the conflict. After all, the name of the game is "legacy," and Rosenberg doesn't mince words when explaining what "legacy" means to a character like The Punisher.
Put simply: "Killing people."
The Punisher #218 arrives this November.